What we’ve read so far: Three years

THREE! Three years of reading. Reading board books, picture books, early readers, audiobooks, old favorites and new discoveries. I just peeked back at a couple “what we’ve read so far” posts from about a year ago (22.5 months | 2 years, 1 month) and plenty of those books are still in rotation.

sophiessquashWe are also keeping things fresh with books from the library (daily, weekly) and, lately, a few gifts; I gave her copies of Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Alligator Cookies by James Young, Please Mr. Panda by Steve Antony, and Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel (the only Frog and Toad book she didn’t already have). We also received Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller from friends. Sophie was an immediate hit, and we found Sophie’s Squash Go to School at the library so basically we are in heaven.

Some of our other recent picture book favorites include:

  • The Class by Boni Ashburn: Know a kid starting school for the first time? Put this book in their hands. (Better yet, sit and read it together.) See also: School’s First Day of School and Oliver and His Alligator.
  • Hoodwinked by Arthur Howard: I looked up the author because we had his Serious Trouble on our shelf at home (thanks Nana!), and Hoodwinked is perfect for the Halloween season (or really anytime); it reminds me a lot of Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner.
  • Grumpy Pants by Claire Messner is the perfect book to pull out when someone is grumpy, and a great illustration of how moods can change. See also: Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps and Hooray for Hat!
  • Solutions for Cold Feet and other little problems by Carey Sookocheff is simple and sweet and funny; it can also be used to open a discussion about problem-solving. I have not yet gotten tired of re-reading this one and we’ve had it for several weeks now.
  • Ellie by Mike Wu features a cute little elephant and her friends banding together to save their zoo. Ellie in Concert is the follow-up. See also: Bonkers! by Cath Jones.
  • Princess Bess Gets Dressed by Margery Cuyler: Kids this age like to play dress-up, but what they like even more than putting clothes on is taking them off…this book will resonate.
  • Interrupting Chicken and Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein: some of the humor in these is above a three-year-old’s pay grade, but she enjoys them anyway, and her adult readers definitely do.



Sewing project: envelope pillowcase covers (and dreaming of quilts)

I hemmed a pair of curtains (from IKEA via a yard sale) and there was enough fabric left over to cover three of the four throw pillows that came with our couch (the fourth pillow is in the reading nook in the other room), so now the unrelenting sea of nondescript brown is broken up a bit, and the pillows match the curtains, and the fabric was essentially free.

A friend sent me a link to zippered pillowcase covers on the blog Hey There Home, and it looked fairly simple, but even simpler is the envelope style of pillowcase cover that does not involve a zipper (or a zipper foot). I’m pretty sure this is the easiest sewing project I’ve ever done! I used this set of instructions (“How to Make an Envelope Pillow Cover“), with this set as a backup (“DIY: Simple Envelope Pillow Tutorial“).

Two of the three pillowcases. Not perfect and not terribly special, but easy, and better than they looked before! (And washable.)

I also attended the Rising Star Quilters Guild show in Lexington recently, and WOW. I’m just beginning learning to quilt and I can’t imagine spending eight years on one, or having the patience to make one even half as perfect (and enormous) as the ones I saw, but I’m certainly inspired.

I’m not sure how the artists would feel about me posting pictures of their quilts online (particularly as I can’t attribute properly – I didn’t write down all the names), but I just visited a friend who is also a quilter, and whose mother is an amazing quilter, and here are some pictures of a “turtle quilt” she made:

This is not a great picture but it is an incredible quilt.
Detail of two of the turtles, which you’ll notice have each been pieced together with different shapes and expressions. Incredible.

I love everything about this quilt. Turtles, for one, of course. The fall colors, from green to yellow to orange to brown. The asymmetry of it; it would never have occurred to me to make a quilt anything other than symmetrical, but now it’s an option! The design of simple horizontal stripes with those big blocks…I just love it.

October garden update: getting ready for winter

Nothing too much to report since the last gardening update, other than that I’ve pulled out the pumpkin vines and the tomatoes, and planted garlic in the raised bed. I’ve never grown garlic before – fingers crossed for a yummy harvest next year!

My little book Stuff Every Gardener Should Know gave me the idea to grow garlic. I borrowed two popsicle sticks from our art supply drawer to help me remember where I’d planted the cloves.
Two bulbs of garlic from the farmers’ market yielded six large cloves.

Back to bread

Now that the weather has cooled off enough that turning on the oven isn’t unthinkable, I’m back to my standby bread recipe, the quick, easy, one-rise English Muffin Toasting Bread from King Arthur Flour. (The recipe makes one loaf; the extra one here is for my mom, who picked us up from the airport after our trip!)

Also, a baker friend gave me some of her sourdough starter. I don’t adore sourdough all the time, but I like it very much toasted for certain sandwiches. I turned to King Arthur again for my first attempt, using their Rustic Sourdough Bread recipe. (Because I couldn’t use the starter right away – I got it right before we left on a three-day trip – I put it in the fridge, and took it out when we got back. KA has plenty of tips for caring for your starter!)

As usual, I was underwhelmed by the rise – recipes often say the dough should double in bulk and I never feel that mine does, but in this case, it came out just fine anyway, and in fact made quite a pretty loaf. Another few minutes in the oven and it would have been perfect, I think (I was rushing to leave the house and took it out as soon as the internal temp reached 190F). It didn’t taste strongly of sourdough, but it was fine bread nonetheless. We ate some, and sliced and froze the rest.


I’d like to get a bit more adventurous with baking bread this fall and winter – the potato bread from Beth Hensperger’s Bread Bible is fantastic, and I want to try making rye or pumpernickel – but the English Muffin Toasting bread is just so easy (one short rise!), it’s my go-to. Anyone have any breads they love that don’t need long rise times?


Late September/Early October Garden

Though the weather is still nice – no sign of frost, even overnight – I’m beginning to wind down the garden and make notes for next year.

IMG_20180921_092709Berries: The blueberry bush foliage is beginning to turn a little bit – it’s very pretty! I may get another next spring, or another raspberry bush, and I’m planning to put some strawberries in the raised bed.

Garlic: I haven’t planted it yet, but I got two heads of garlic at the farmers’ market and plan to plant it in the raised bed. Along with potatoes, maybe?

Grasses: The “Cape Breeze” panicum virgatum I planted where the hydrangea died is doing well. I got two more of them – one the same, and one “Shenandoah” – and planted them on the opposite site of the back yard, on either side of the compost bin. We had just enough bricks left to continue the border, and I mulched after planting, so it looks quite nice.

The squashed-looking one on the left was on sale. And we haven’t got round to painting the compost bin to look like a Dalek yet – maybe next year. Those three types of tangled wire fence can count their days, too…
Playhouse in the corner of the yard. With a fancy floor of paving stones! All credit for the playhouse goes to Ben, I just helped move it into place.

Marigolds: Now that we pretty much know where we’ll be and can plant in the ground (though I still love container gardening!) I prefer to concentrate on perennials, but damn you get a lot of bang for your buck with marigolds. Half of mine I planted from seed, and I saved some of this year’s seeds to plant next year. I’ve never done that before, hope it works!


IMG_20181001_083111Pumpkin: We harvested the single, singular pumpkin, and it’s quite a specimen! I still haven’t dealt with the vines.

“Hydrangealicious” rose: Very soon after planting, something came along and nibbled off most of the leaves. I retaliated by sprinkling red pepper flakes liberally around the plant to keep critters away.

Sunflowers: I cut the blooms from the sunflowers and enjoyed them inside for a few days. Ben cut down the giant stalk and pulled up the roots.

Tomatoes: Still harvesting! I cut back a lot of the greenery again, reducing the height of the jungle by about 1/3. Next year, my plan is to do the tomatoes in containers again (possibly old dresser drawers, or else the good old orange buckets) along the fence in front, and make sure to stake them early and prune them often. Also, I won’t plant so many! 14+ plants make way more tomatoes than this family eats, apparently.


Wildflowers: That $2 packet of seeds went a long way! I just cut some of the cosmos to put in a vase when we had friends over for dinner, but there’s still plenty of color out there.



More thoughts for next year…

Annuals: In the largest pot, I’m thinking Icelandic poppies for height and color, lobelia, and verbena or calibrochoa. And the marigolds from seed, of course – I’ll start those indoors and then maybe put them in the ground instead of in pots.

Butterfly weed / milkweed: We visited the Massachusetts Horticultural Society gardens in Wellesley a couple weeks ago and attended a seed program in the children’s garden. They sent us home with a paper packet of seeds to plant this fall.

Herbs: I’m toying with the idea of putting mint in the ground, somewhere. Everyone says it will take over, but I’d rather have mint take over than daylilies… I’m also thinking of lemon balm and creeping thyme. And the usual rosemary, basil, and chives in pots. This year I had a beautiful parsley plant and never once used parsley, but I can harvest it and freeze it to use in soups this winter…

Peas and sweet pea: More of these, anywhere there’s sun and room to climb!


Dog Days at the Reservoir

We enjoyed swimming at playing at Reservoir Beach this summer, and after it closed for swimming (for people), there was one day where it was open for dogs: “Dog Days,” organized by A-DOG (Arlington Dog Owners Group). I was pretty excited to take Sudo and let her lope around and socialize…but she was less excited.

She liked putting her nose out the window in the car, though.

“Ooooh, where are we going? Never mind, I don’t care. Keep this breeze coming! Lots of interesting smells.”
Wandering around aimlessly
Not so much making a friend as tolerating a new acquaintance.
“No photos, please. Ugh, the paparazzi are awful at this beach. Let’s go home.”
“OK, here is my reasonably happy face, can we go back home to the couch now?”


What we’ve read so far, two years eleven months

She’s going to be three in an eyeblink! She is really into early readers now (especially anything by Arnold Lobel; Fancy Nancy; the Arthur books; and some Kevin Henkes), but we’re still doing plenty of picture books. Here are a few of our recent favorites:

  • Home by Carson Ellis (pairs well with This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe)
  • Joseph Had A Little Overcoat and This Is The House That Jack Built by Simms Taback (she loved these; I liked them but, because of their repetitive nature, wasn’t wild about reading them over and over. You may feel differently! These were recommended by a friend.)
  • Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood
  • Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (perfect for those who like rhyming text and STE(A)M* messaging)
  • Tony’s Hard Work Day by Alan Arkin (recommended by a co-worker)
  • Dad and the Dinosaur by Jennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • I Don’t Want to Be Big by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt
  • Dog on a Digger by Kate Predergast (an excellent wordless picture book)
  • I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro
  • Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly
  • Tinyville Town Gets to Work by Brian Biggs (recommended to us by a friend of a friend as a more modern Busytown, which was pretty accurate)
  • Good Night, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

*Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics

For more ideas for books for 2-3 year olds, check out the “storytime” posts on my library blog: https://jenny-arch.com/tag/storytime/

Map of Hogwarts and surrounding areaIn my own reading life, I just started a fun project: I’m re-reading all of the Harry Potter books. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of them, and because I had to wait for each book to be published, I never read all seven in a row. (I re-read the first three many times, but the fourth through seventh I only read twice each.) I have already zipped through the first three (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban) since August 31, but they’re relatively short. Still, I may finish all seven before the end of the month. I’m making up trivia questions as I go so I can host a Harry Potter trivia night at the library later this year or early 2019. If you’re local, stay tuned!

New theme again

As the banner over the chalkboard in my sixth-grade classroom said, “Just ‘good enough’ is not good enough.” I ditched the last blog theme and found a new one I’m happier with. Again, let me know if anything is wonky. To reward your patience, here’s a photo of the kiddo and some ducks at the pond.

Kid in hat and dress sitting on a rock, watching ducks on the pond

Early September garden

IMG_20180831_082641Well, the hydrangea is kaput. It died in a spectacularly quick and mysterious fashion – all of the leaves, including those on the two stems I cut and put in water, shriveled and crisped up – and I dug it up and returned it to the nursery, where I got a refund but no satisfying answers as to what had happened to it. (We did have some days with temperatures in the 90s right after planting, but I was sure to give it plenty of water.)

I was reluctant to replace it with another hydrangea, so I wandered around the nursery and found a tall grass (Panicum virgatum “Cape Breeze”) and a small rose bush (“hydrangealicious”) instead. I waited for the next heat wave to pass, making sure the plants had plenty of water in their pots, then planted when the weather cooled off a little. The tall grass (which was very root-bound – I loosened it with a garden fork) went where the hydrangea had been, and the rose went on the other side of the arbor vita.

In other garden news, the sunflowers are bursting out beautifully, the tomatoes are still coming, and the pumpkin vine produced a pumpkin after all!




Updated theme

Pilcrow was retired, and after a long delay, I finally chose a new theme, though I wish the sidebar was on the right side rather than the left. Well, it’s good enough. Let me know if there are any problems or the site is behaving weirdly. Here’s what it used to look like:

Screenshot of About page of this blog with Pilcrow theme
So long, Pilcrow, and thanks for all the fish.